Marcus Trescothick: 'I thought I was going to die...'

Brian Viner Interviews: The Somerset opener reveals how he is only now making a recovery after his desperate battle with depression ended his England career

Friday 26 September 2008 00:00 BST

The new members' stand at Somerset CCC's ground in Taunton is to be named after Marcus Trescothick, it was announced this week, and nobody in the world of cricket will begrudge him the honour. Not after the turmoil he's been through. Indeed, it is hard, from a comfortable chair in the bar of the Andaz Hotel next to Liverpool Street station, to look at a seemingly relaxed and self-assured Trescothick sitting next to me and to imagine him, just six months ago, sobbing uncontrollably in a corner at Dixons at Heathrow Airport, emotionally incapable of boarding a plane for Dubai with his Somerset team-mates.

Yet his recently published autobiography begins with a heart-rending account of the latest episode in the psychological torment that has scuppered the England career of this most likeable of cricketers, and Trescothick knows that it is his mental fragility, more than his power at the crease (which, his first-innings duck notwithstanding, has helped to give Somerset a chance of clinching the championship in the current home match against Lancashire) on which our conversation will focus.

The book is on the table in front of us, and I start by drawing his attention to a quote on the jacket from Geoffrey Boycott. "It's not like a broken leg or a bloody nose," Boycott said. "Nobody can see your suffering... I really feel for the lad." This, I venture, must have delighted him. After all, one might have expected Boycott to have taken the view that an England cricketer should have more bloody gumption than to duck out of an Ashes tour, in tears, as Trescothick did the winter before last. He smiles, and does a passable Boycott imitation. "Yeah. You'd have expected him to say, 'Get on wi' it!' "

There have not yet, he adds, been any negative responses to the intensely personal revelations in his book. Nor, as a rule, does he get any ribbing on the field of play. "There was just a little bit last season in one game, against Leicestershire. Someone said a couple of things, but I didn't give him the satisfaction of reacting. I don't think there's any excuse for it. What I have is an illness, not a weakness. If I had leukaemia and was still playing cricket while I went through that process, nobody would dream of mentioning it, so why mention this?"

Indeed, and the book should help to clarify the nature of his illness, although it can't help that there is no fancy name for it, other than the rather unsatisfactory "anxiety". Was it cathartic to chronicle it all, which he did with the help of the cricket writer Peter Hayter? "Yeah. It had all been in my mind for such a long time, so to get it on to paper almost cleared my mind, in a way. Also, it felt so bad in my mind, but it doesn't look quite so bad written down. I can see the good things that happened as well."

We'll come to the good stuff – and of course there was plenty of it in an England career which yielded 14 Test hundreds and a splendid Test average of 43.79 – but for now let's stick with the bad. What was his darkest moment? "When I came back from India the first time," he says without hesitation. "I didn't have a clue what was going on, except there was something drastically wrong. I thought I was going to die. And having to deal with that was a nightmare. When it happened again I had much more understanding. I knew I'd feel fine when I got home."

Trescothick was handed the captaincy on England's 2006 tour to India, after Michael Vaughan failed a fitness test. Yet he was in no fit state to think straight, let alone to captain the side. At home, his wife Hayley was suffering post-natal depression following the birth of their daughter, Ellie. This intensified Trescothick's own anxiety at being separated from his family. On the coach journey to the ground in Baroda for the final warm-up match against the Board President's XI, the pitiful sight of beggars brought his mental anguish to a head. He lasted until the third day of the match, and then broke down in the dressing room. In the book, he recalls: "At that point I was a shell. You could have taken all my kit, all my money, taken my life away. I didn't care." He was sent home that evening.

Would it still have happened, I ask him, if Hayley had been fine back in England, and if his father-in-law had not sustained life-threatening injuries falling off a ladder, during an earlier tour to Pakistan, which similarly loaded him with guilt for being away? "It probably would have done," he says. "There were enough signs to show it was building, and it was only a matter of time before it erupted. For quite a long time I've dreaded this time of year, counting the days to another tour."

Significantly, even as a child he used to suffer from acute homesickness, so an international cricketing career was hardly what a psychiatrist would have ordered. On which subject, what is it about cricket, I ask him, that seems to exacerbate or perhaps even generate psychological problems? A small, rueful smile. "Yeah, I know. Maybe we have to be a little bit mad doing what we do, sometimes spending six hours in the field. Maybe it's something to do with the mental application required to play cricket." Not many cricketers suffer as he has done, of course, but that mental application gets to plenty of them in the end. He must have watched with interest the press conference in which Vaughan, fighting back tears, announced his resignation as England captain?

"Yeah, and actually that looked quite similar. What he talked about, wanting to get back to being himself, that to me is exactly right. You lose track of what you are, and who you are, because you get so wrapped up in what you're achieving. To be a professional sportsman you have to be very selfish, and especially so in cricket because you play for such long hours. Once you throw in overseas tours..."

But let us turn to a time when the mental application to which he refers worked spectacularly in his and England's favour. There is a fascinating passage in the book, where he explains how his highest Test innings of 219, against South Africa at The Oval five years ago this month, came with a musical accompaniment.

"I'd gradually worked out that when I play well I sing to myself out in the middle," he tells me. "I mentioned it to [the England sports psychologist] Steve Bull, and he said, 'Then let's have it as a tool'. But I'd broken my finger earlier in that series, and at The Oval I was really struggling in the nets. Then I got into the middle and my feet were everywhere. I was thinking about my head moving, about keeping my bat straight, and eventually I got to a point where I thought, 'Enough's enough'. So I started singing this Eminem song, 'Lose Yourself', which I listened to a lot in the car. And it clicked in straight away. I got into this zone where my mind was so focused on the song that everything else seemed to happen in slow motion. The bowler would let go of the ball, and I felt as if I could see every part of the seam, so I knew which way it was going to swing. It felt so simple. It was like being in The Matrix, where he's dodging the bullets."

This anecdote, and the fantasy of the same thing happening to him in next year's Ashes, is enough to make all England fans rue the loss of Trescothick, who is still only 32. Yet the man himself rarely dwells on what might have been, he says. Not even with the Stanford super-series coming up, with its possibility of untold riches? "Well, of course I'd love to be involved. Who wouldn't? But I know I made the right decision, and that I'm a better person for it, away from the bubble of being an international cricketer. Obviously, there are massive financial implications. I'll have to keep working for a long time yet, whereas if I was still playing for England then who knows what my earning potential would be. I won't be able to hang up my boots and spend my week on the golf course, like some will, and missing out on central contracts is a big thing, but I know that the price I would have paid was far greater than any reward."

He didn't realise, he adds, that there would be any price to pay when he set off for the 2006-07 Ashes tour. He had been on stiff medication, but he had a target date of 8 October for coming off, and when he achieved that target with no ill effects, he felt, as he told one newspaper only a little disingenuously, "fit and raring to go". Within a few days of the start of the tour, it was clear he was anything but, and the team doctor advised him to start the medication again.

"I knew after a week or so that I wouldn't last. Jet lag used to affect me really badly, and I was anxious anyway, so if you add sleep deprivation, the problem escalated again. The closer we got to the start of the Test series, which was the biggest series ever with Australia having lost the Ashes in 2005, I was getting worse by 10 per cent each day."

Then, on the first morning of the match against New South Wales, there came a knock on the door at 7.30am. "I didn't put this in the book," he tells me. "I think I forgot about it. But I'd been asleep for about two hours when I was woken up by drug-testers. I'd been on sleeping pills and a whole concoction of things, and that made me really nervous I might fail a drugs test. From there things progressed pretty quickly." On the final day of the match he once again made it to the sanctuary of the dressing room before breaking down. "All the same feelings of irrational fear, despair and panic that had taken over my whole being that day in Baroda came back in wave after bloody great wave," the book records. "It took about 20 minutes for me to calm down enough and to stop crying long enough to even speak."

Nobody who reads Trescothick's extraordinarily affecting story could possibly take issue with his decision to retire from international cricket, but it still seems worth asking him what he will miss most.

"The adrenalin rush of the big occasion," he says. "Walking out in front of 30,000 people, then winning those games. There was a very nice moment at the end of the 2005 Ashes when we were in the changing room at The Oval, and the captains had shaken hands, but the umpires still hadn't removed the bails. So we knew we'd won it about two minutes before anyone else did, and in those two minutes there was screaming and laughing, champagne everywhere, it was madness. That was fantastic, totally unlike any other win." He ponders for a moment, then smiles. "But if Somerset win the championship, that would rank right up there alongside the Ashes victory."

All right-minded neutrals will be hoping that Trescothick, after bravely recording the lowest of lows, ends the season on the highest of highs.

Home & away

Test match record:

Caps: 76; Runs: 5,825; Ave: 43.79; Highest score: 219; 100s: 14; 50s: 29.

Home test record:

Matches: 42; Runs: 3,472; Ave: 51.06; Highest score: 219 (v South Africa, Lords, 2003); 100s: 9; 50s: 19.

Away test record:

Matches: 34; Runs: 2,353; Ave: 36.20; Highest score: 193 (v Pakistan, Multan, 2005); 100s: 5; 50s: 10.

One-day record:

Apps: 123; Runs: 4,335; Ave: 37.37; Highest score: 137; 100s: 12; 50s: 21.

Home one-day record:

Matches: 59; Runs: 2,407; Ave: 45.42; Highest score: 137 (v Pakistan, Lords, 2001); 100s: 8; 50s: 12.

Away one-day record:

Matches: 64; Runs: 1,928; Ave: 30.60; Highest score: 130 (v West Indies, St Lucia, 2004); 100s: 4; 50s: 9.

Test touring record:

Trescothick regularly began strongly overseas, only for his scores to dwindle as the tours progressed. In four of his nine Test tours, he registered at least one score of 50 or more in his first Test, yet failed to follow that up. On his first tour (to Pakistan in 2000-01), Trescothick scored 71 in the first innings of the first Test, but failed to register 50 or more in any other test. The same winter, in Sri Lanka, he scored 122 and 57 in the first Test, and again failed to score 50 or more in any of the other Tests. In Australia in 2003 he scored 72 in his first innings, but failed to register a score over 50 in his next nine innings. In Pakistan in 2005-06, he scored 193 in his first Test, but averaged 20.6 for the rest of the series.

Marcus Trescothick's autobiography, 'Coming Back To Me', is published by HarperSport, priced £18.99

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